Right Brain Brewery

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Right Brain BreweryRight Brain Brewery
2,164 Ratings
Right Brain BreweryRight Brain Brewery

Type: Brewery, Bar, Eatery, Beer-to-go

225 E Sixteenth St Ste E
Traverse City, Michigan, 49684-4181
United States

(231) 944-1239 | map

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Added by Mitchster on 12-15-2007

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Ratings: 141 |  Reviews: 51
Photo of littlehowtown
1.98/5  rDev -51%
vibe: 2 | quality: 1.5 | service: 2.5 | selection: 2

I had a lot of hope for this place, as many I know have told me about it, and it's gotten some kind reviews on BA. I just didn't see what people enjoyed at this place.

Located in an alley, it was off the beaten track; but hey, I live in Three Floyds country, I know about obscure brewpub locations. The outside was a bit confusing, as the permanent sign, highest placed, was for a hair salon. And with the salon in the front window, we thought the whole place was closed at 9 on a Friday. A trip down a hall proved otherwise. There was the room we seeked.

I took a look around and had a seat at the bar. The place reminded me of a coffee shop, with linoleum floors, laminate here and there, country oak trim for the bar. No passive entertainment or games, save a collection of board games where we came in. The room was large, quite a few 20-somethings were sitting around in what looked to be clicks in a lunchroom. Come to think of it, the place could have been confused with a cafeteria. Not to be mean, but it felt a bit juvenile. And misleading, as there was nothing in the way of food beyond hummus, chocolate truffles, and some bags of popcorn.

We were greeted quickly by a guy playing with his iPhone behind the bar, which oddly enough was being used as the source for the bar music. He asked if we wanted to see menus. He handed us each a piece of white paper folded in half. Inside were the beers and some descriptions. 2 IPA's to lead off, and some other interesting ones. My wife took one IPA, and I took the other. Mine tasted eerily similar to a malt taste I had for my first ever homebrew attempt. That taste that comes from extracting the sugars at the wrong temperature, like it's too starchy. The hops really took a back seat to what the malt was doing. Aromas were weak, the apperance muddy, the flavors that were there were not interesting. We saw a sign of "beers in the pipeline" with 5 different IPAs listed, among other varieties. I wonder if they are searching for a recipe that comes out tasting like an IPA or if they think that their hoppy beers are good enough to be recognized for them. We noticed the cask ale was hanging out with a wrap on it under a counter, with a needlessly long, uncovered line running to the beer engine. I just couldn't bring myself to even ask for a taste to check it, especially with the $1/ounce charge on tastes.

As we looked back over the menus to see if we should venture on, we noticed that over half the beers used the term "malty" singularly to describe the profile, including the IPAs. Like whoever wrote it had no idea what to write about the beers. It made me wonder who was running the place. Then I saw a high school graduation photo of the owner over the other side of the bar, replete with flawless mullet and 'stache. Normally I'd find some humor in something that odd, but given all the other odd problems I saw, it just made sort of a sad amount of sense.

I asked a bartender what other beers they had available from guest breweries. Although they had probably 8 open draft lines, Right Brain didn't have anything else on. So pretty much nothing left for me to do but call in the tab. I guess I wouldn't want my beers placed next to anyone else's either.

Now, I understand the brewery is young, and that certain changes are made as a business grows and learns from experience, but to start of on such a missing foot makes me wonder if they can cut it. The beers will have to step it up a huge notch and receive cult-like status here on BA before I'd ever venture back. Again, it probably sounds mean, but I just don't understand how beers of this caliber become the backbone of a business.

Not recommended. Try North Peak just down the street. It's nicer to look at, has a less clicky crowd, the beers are acceptable or better, and have a cask ale I wasn't worried about (IPA when I was there, ironically). They also have food pretty late. The wood-fire baked cheese dip was a fantastic snack.

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Photo of augievikings
2.05/5  rDev -49.3%
vibe: 1.5 | quality: 1.5 | service: 2 | selection: 3

In a nutshell, this place is weird. Tucked back inside a strip mall, you feel like you're walking through a hair salon to get to the bar. After attempting to have a beer here, it became very obvious that I am not hip enough for this scene. I always try cask conditioned beers when I have an opportunity, and here they had a jalapeno stout concoction on cask. While others may like a spicy warm stout, I found it to be awful. The bartenders were pretentious and not particularly friendly. We didn't even finish our beers because we were just not enjoying the vibe the place was giving off. Perhaps if you are a regular you are used to the atmosphere, but I found it off-putting. I much preferred the North Peak brews I tried during my stay in Traverse City.

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Photo of zoso1967
2.36/5  rDev -41.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 1.5 | service: 3 | selection: 2

Oh Right Brain, I just don't understand why so many people like you.

Since moving back to TC I have been coming by RB frequently enough to allow me to review this place. We most often come on Tuesday nights when they have their very enjoyable trivia night. Unfortunately, trivia is the only reason I ever want to come here.

The decor and vibe of the place are both fine. It's modern, eclectic and chill with a nice Midwest laid back sort of feel. I find that the place tries a bit too hard to be different, but I really can't complain much about the atmosphere when compared to many other local places.

I have never been overly impressed with the service here. Some of the people don't know much about the beers and they often get a little snotty with me when I ask too many questions.

The beer is the real downfall though. I have had many different brews of varying styles during different times of the year and I have even had brews from both brewers. Unfortunately the very best of what they have to offer is just mediocre and when it's bad, it's pretty ugly

I went just last night and out of the 5 different beers I tasted only one was decent enough that I might order it again. The other four were terrible and we were using words to describe them like: plastic, rotting vegetation, moldy doughnuts, rubber, ash and marinade. If my homebrew ever comes out tasting like some of what they have on tap, I would pour it down the drain and try to do better next time. Once the bartender actually apologized to me in advance when she handed me a beer. She should not have to do that!

Selection is also not their strongest point as often they are loaded up on one particular style, or they have almost nothing on. You can rest assured that they will have something "Right brained" on tap though, which has an equal chance of being interesting or a complete disaster. They make a lot of one-off beers which is nice, but this adds to the roulette type scenario of betting on how many of the beers I try will actually be palatable. Sometimes I win big and feel like I did not waste my money, but just like in Vegas the house usually wins.

To add insult to injury the beers are all around $5 and many are premium (chuckle) pours so you only get 12 oz. I could go to U & I and get a Huma for less, and U & I also has delicious food. Even Bubba's is comparable in beer prices.

I am sure this will not change the mind of the Right Brainwashed regulars, but I would highly recommend that if you are visiting the TC area that you take the money you may have spent here and use it on good beer at Short's.

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Photo of Kenb72
2.6/5  rDev -35.6%

Photo of goast8127
2.63/5  rDev -34.9%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 2.5 | service: 2 | selection: 3

Reviewed on 10/22

We had a little bit of difficulty finding this place. I mostly blame the GPS. The bar seemed a little oddly placed in it's office complex. Inside was eccentric and unique. There was some woodwork, exposed ducts, and many different games. Sly and the Family Stone was featured quite heavily on the sound system. Felt very much like a bar in someone's basement. Being it was Friday, the place was quite busy. We sat at a table and had to order and retrieve our drinks from the bar, as everyone did. Was disappointed that the white boards were not correctly up-to-date with what was available, and was not impressed with the beers I selected. I know enough about the place to give it another chance.

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Photo of JimT
2.66/5  rDev -34.2%
vibe: 3 | quality: 3 | service: 1 | selection: 3.75

Don't know could not get a server to wait on me. Three people behind bar, one other table, no service. Left thirsty and disappointed. I hear it is fantastic Beer, if you have plenty of time, and patience, give it a try. But there are plenty of other excellent microbreweries in TC with better service..

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Photo of Grand-Raggedy
2.75/5  rDev -31.9%

Photo of Hrodebert
2.85/5  rDev -29.5%
vibe: 2.75 | quality: 2.75 | service: 3.25 | selection: 2.75 | food: 2.5

Pretty disappointing visit. The selection of beer on tap was very mediocre, nothing terrible, but nothing great either. Mostly just flavorless.
The food is below average in quality with portions being very small, and the waffle used for a bun on every sandwich was not a very good substitute, being flavorless and almost mushy.
The locals do seem to like the beer, as I saw quite a few bring in the clear growlers used by Right Brain.
One thing for sure with this place is the employees have the neck-beards down pat.

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Photo of Hop_Girl
3/5  rDev -25.7%

Photo of JohnnieNepal
3/5  rDev -25.7%

Photo of claminat420
3.1/5  rDev -23.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 2.5 | service: 3 | selection: 3.5

well it's very clear that the brewery shares a building with other businesses. very cool establishment i.m.o. they have a chalkboard with the brews on hand and giving info on each one. they have a wall for their mug club and it's a site to see. it's a very laid back enviroment. when i went there were kids running around playing with their toys and no one cared. the place is very i don't know.. free spirited. they have alot of personal art and what-not hanging on the ceiling. the service is really good and the staff are cool. i got a growler to take home and i wanted the simcoe dream which is cask conditioned (cuz i thought their other ipa that wasn't casked sucked). well one of the employee's told me they don't really do that cuz of the cask getting flat but i offered to pay more and he said he would. he ended up giving me the growler for no extra money and i also got 2 pint glasses and a set of coasters for all 25 bucks out the door. which totally beats great lakes brewing which not even a month ago wanted to charge me 33 bucks just for a growler of blackout stout (RIP OFF!!)
the only thing i can say that is negative about the place is how they try to have 12+ beers on tap and when i went there 8/23/10 there were only i think 8. now the only thing i can say negative about the brewery is i would like to see more higher alcohol beers. they had nothing over 6.3abv which was an amber. like make an ipa that or 7abv.
i didn't get any food but all they have anyway are just some munchies like pretzels, popcorn, etc. overall this place is great. seems like the majority of the people who go there are down to earth but there are #ssholes everywhere. for $3 pints during happy hour 3-6 you can't beat it.

UPDATED!!!!went back on aug 17th 2011 and was pretty disappointed. their prices seem like they could be lowered and the quality of beer seemed to have dropped. 5.35 a pint of your own homemade beer at the same establshment seems kinda dickish to me. when shorts and other companies sell their beer cheaper and make way much more better stuff too.

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Photo of AylwinForbes
3.13/5  rDev -22.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3 | service: 3 | selection: 3

Traverse City was a pitstop on our way to Shorts a few miles north. Thank God we didn't stay in Traverse since it was awash in vacationers. We had received several endorsements of the Brain and so made our approach with optimism and enthusiasm. That a bit dented by its slightly hidden quality and trying to find a parking spot. Also a little taken aback by the first impression being that of a hair-dresser. Fortunately we managed to discern that the bar was behind. I guess it is a unique claim to be made to be the only bar where one can gaze out onto people having their hair dyed.

First impression was favourable: liked the slightly hip, west-coast casual ambiance. Encouraged by sign saying no one under 21 (except that's only true after 9, so yes there were babies in there). Bar staff pretty friendly. Happy hour prices really reasonable. Here's the thing though: beer just not that good. My own brewery is better. Spiny Norman not so bad. Will Power not so good. Something on the cask, a stout with cinnamon, truly awful; it would take a lot of ice cream to banish the taste of that one.

Another disappointment was the complete absence of real food. Chips and hummus that are delivered in the packages that came from the store...

A lot of marketing goes into this operation with its funky shirts and stuff. Also it tries to create a reputation of edgy and off-the-wall creations - like beer made with asparagus. Take a tip from Barry at Saugatuck: do the simple things well.

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Photo of mgavin
3.44/5  rDev -14.9%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.75 | selection: 3.5 | food: 2.25

Photo of Mitchster
3.45/5  rDev -14.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 2 | selection: 4

These guys have been open for about 2 weeks now. I don't know where the parking is, so I just parked out front. It's a typical open industrial look, with unfinished ceilings, exposed air ducts, etc. No food for right now, unless a bag of premade popcorn counts. They had about 12 beers on tap or so, with room for about 5 more. I tried the ESB, Raspberry pale, Hefe Weizen, IPA, Porter (on nitro), and Stout. They were all good, but none stood out as really, really good. The Hefe weizen and IPA were probably my favorites. I spoke with John, the brewer, for a while. He used to brew for Traverse Brewing Company in Elk Rapids. Very nice and knowledgable guy who seemed to enjoy talking shop. Plenty of seating (the license says 81) with local art on the walls. Big see through window to the beauty shop next door. Bathrooms out in the hall are shared with the other businesses in the building. They don't currently have a sampler tray, and it seemed the bartender was irritated by my requests to try the beers, despite the fact I was paying for them. When I was there, they had happy hour from 3-6p with $2 pints.

These guys have promise. The beers are decent for an early start, and I hope to see them grow.

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Photo of Brandonparrent
3.49/5  rDev -13.6%
vibe: 3.75 | quality: 3.75 | service: 3 | selection: 3.75 | food: 3

Photo of target88
3.5/5  rDev -13.4%

Photo of rpenterics
3.5/5  rDev -13.4%

Photo of J_Barrett
3.5/5  rDev -13.4%

Photo of Mxsluis
3.5/5  rDev -13.4%

Photo of beergorrilla
3.5/5  rDev -13.4%

Photo of Segnem5
3.58/5  rDev -11.4%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.25 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 3.75

Enjoy certain beers within the signature series but more recent offerings at brew pub have not appealed to my personal preference.

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Photo of MarcatGSB
3.59/5  rDev -11.1%
vibe: 3.75 | quality: 3.25 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4

Now I've visited Right Brain about a half dozen times over the past three years, and have varying experiences. The first time I went about three years ago, I really fell in love with the place. It was a great addition to the Traverse City area. The local artwork is a great feature, the beers were tasty, using alot of local, eclectic ingredients, and the vibe was fun and relaxed. I've read some things recently that say the beers have gone down hill, but in my limited experiences, they have been alright. They aren't the best beers, no Shorts, or JP, but they are better than average beers. I've had some really nice beers on cask there, which is hard to get around the way. Give it a try, there aren't an overwhelming amount of choices in the area, so you should have time to decide for yourself.
NOTE: EDIT 12-27-2012 Original score as 3.91.
I have since visited Right Brain in their new location and wanted to note some things. The original brewer is back from his stint at JP, and the quality of the breweries as definitely been re-elevated.
The new tap room is pretty impressive. It's a really cool space, spread out, with plenty of wall space for art work, kind of continuing the theme from the Warehouse District. The brewing area itself is massively larger than previous, so this should give them the room they need to grow and distribute soon. Good looking out Right Brain.

RE-EDIT: 12-17-2013 After visiting Right Brain a few more times in their new location, and tasting some of the new brews from the new brew system, my opinion has changed quite a bit. The new location is so far out of the way. We stopped by on a Saturday night around 7 o clock, and it was more or less empty feeling, and was not inviting. If the space was smaller, or could be broken up a bit, the vibe may change, but with it being so big and everyone so spread out, it really wasn't that welcoming and warm. The Anniversary brew was pretty good, and everything else we had was ok, but two visits ago, both the beers we had were butter bombs. And these werent't the first beers we've had that had that problem.
With other options popping up in Traverse City, Right Brain needs to step it up or they will find themselves on the outside looking in.

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Photo of jimbofish
3.6/5  rDev -10.9%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 2 | selection: 5

We've visited RBB since it first opened last fall. In fact we checked almost weekly all last summer, waiting for them to open, due to long delays in construction. Overall, it was worth the wait.

The selection of beers on tap is impressive, usually at least 12, with a half-dozen more taps unused as of yet. And those aren't your usual generic styles, oh no! They're all a 'kicked up a notch' with extra ingredients that you aren't expecting to find in beer. The CEO Stout (chocolate, espresso, oatmeal) is one of the beers that has been on the menu since the start, and for good reason... rich, smooth, satisfying. Otherwise, there seems to be an ever changing parade of beers... basically following common styles, but each version with a new twist. So far we haven't found a bad one, but we haven't tried them all. The beers are definitely RBB's strong suit.

Much ado has been made concerning the atmosphere... TV- live music-smoke free, to promote good conversation and atmosphere. A noble effort and, judging from the crowds, quite popular with 20 to 30 somethings. If you're a baby-boomer like we are, you may find yourself counting tiles on the wall, as the younger crowd tends to be a bit clique-ish (not the bar's fault).

Considering that virtually every surface in the room is hard, and the music a bit loud , especially if you're sitting in front of a speaker, the ambient noise level tends to make normal conversation a bit difficult, IMO. Some sound absorbing measures could help a lot.
Most of the lighting seems to be around the perimeter of the room with a few scattered down lights toward the middle. This gives the room a dark center, fine maybe for romantic efforts, but not so good for general vision. A bit of ambient lighting, please?

On our most recent visit last week, there were no $2 specials like there have been since the opening. Maybe this will return when the summer tourists are gone. We did not see any mention of the previous 3-6pm happy hour either. Maybe we just missed it, or it's on summer hiatus also.

The $100/yr membership seems a bit steep for what you get, especially with the $20 customized mug fee at the art center next door, a hat or shirt, $6 growlers, and $4 mug refills, and a 25% discount on kegs.

Service is only available at the bar and the ever-changing bartenders didn't seem particularly knowledgeable or anxious to help on any of our visits. Samples cost $.25 apiece, and drinks must be paid for when served... no tabs? Outside food is allowed, and there is a nice organic food place with carry-outs just across the street.

Parking in front is limited to only a couple of spaces, but there is a larger city-owned lot in back. It's not easy to find if you're not familiar with the area, since the entrance is off Hall St. Garland St was mostly deserted warehouses a year or two ago. It's now become sort of an art and music center. The transformation is amazing.

I hope RBB continues to succeed as it's nice to have some variety in town. I highly recommend it if you're in town. You may find it completely to your liking.

Update: Sept 2011 There is now a patio in front, obviously only open during the summer, although not connected directly to the pub (the hair salon is in between).

The organic restaurant across the street is now gone, as well as the eatery that opened at the other end of the building. A new restaurant is supposed to be opening though.

Prices have increased recently, as they have at all 3 TC breweries. It's hard to find any craft beer for less than $4.50/pint now unless it's happy hour or you're a club member. The $2 specials are long gone, but $3 pints are available from 3-6 on weekdays and some occasional 'special' days.

The service is still a weak point though, even after 3 years. We usually sit at the bar and there have been times when our glasses sat empty in front of us for 10 minutes. We end up having to get up and stand at the order station to get a second beer, even though there is no line and multiple bartenders. Considering that they can see the entire bar from the taps and there is no table service it's annoying, if not rude. I've heard similar comments from other beer geeks. It seems that the service is best when Russ is in the building, but slacks off at times when he's not around.

That said, I feel lucky to live so close to RBB and taste their beers on a regular basis. That the lines are always longest at the RBB booth at any of the MBG Beerfests is proof of their popularity.

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Photo of Dr_Fox
3.69/5  rDev -8.7%
vibe: 3.75 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.75 | food: 3

Photo of Danielr26
3.73/5  rDev -7.7%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.25 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

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Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, MI
Brewery rating: 3.74 out of 5 with 2,164 ratings